Lately much has been made in the media about the new genetic findings that were published recently in the journal neuron, showing that there are many mutations on many different chromosomes that can cause autism. I will qualify this post acknowledging I have not read the actual study but only the media reports, I am not an expert on genetics, so if any of my detractors want to comment on errors of reasoning or to attack me personally or whatever I will begin the post with that caveat.
One of the significant things I have read about the study is that it seems to show that the vast majority of cases of autism come from spontaneous (denovo) mutations and are not inherited. This contradicts the tenets of Temple Grandin who has claimed that eradicating autism would be a disaster and that autism genes have stayed in the population because they provide some sort of adaptive or evolutionary advantage in the way that sickle cell anemia genes have stayed in the population to fight malaria or genes for hemachromatosis have stayed to combat iron deficiencies. She has claimed that autism is responsible for every invention from the spear to the computer to the cell phone. Simon Baron-Cohen has made a similar claim that autism genes provide some sort of evolutionary adaption and this is the reason autism has stayed in the population. He includes this in part of his arguments in stating that high functioning (though it is unclear where the demarcation between high and low functioning are from his writings) autism should not be considered a disability. There are some problems with these arguments I have written about them elsewhere. This study would seem to provide evidence against Grandin's and Baron-Cohen's arguments that autism genes are something good and have stayed in the general population due to adaptive status, but rather autism has stayed in the population because of denovo mutations.
What of the arguments of Mark Blaxill and others who support ageofautism website and philosophy who believe that the cause of most autisms were simply that something (such as vaccines) was introduced into the environment that did not exist previously (at least not in high numbers) and this has caused a huge spike in autism and if we could do research and isolate what this thing is, it would lead to solutions in the etiologies and treatments of this condition? It would seem this research might reduce the credibility of their beliefs, though certainly they will have an explanation and this study or any other won't dissuade them.
The neurodiversity movement has long espoused the dogma that genetic research into autism will result in prenatal testing and widespread abortions of autistic fetuses, possibly as soon as the next five years or less. Will this study, showing in fact how complex and diverse the genetics of autism really are, lead to less credibility of this dogma.
Ari Ne'eman who now has power to recommend policy or even vote on autism policy in two different government positions created at taxpayer expense has called for a ban on all research of this kind. Yet Michael Wigler, one of the principal authors of this study, has claimed that this research at some point may present treatment options for some kinds of autism or perhaps even a cure.
Gadfly wonders if more research along these lines are pursued and published, what will happen to all of these sacred cow beliefs?